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Poultry, a Practical Guide. Hugh Piper, 1877.

7 Facts About Turkeys

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Poultry, a Practical Guide. Hugh Piper, 1877.

Gobble gobble gobble! Whether you’re from the U.S. or abroad, you’re probably going to hear a lot about turkeys in the next few days. Here are some facts about them that you can drop during Thanksgiving dinner!

1. First off…they’re not so dumb they drown in the rain. Turkeys aren't the smartest animals, but assuming they’re “curious” about the rain is being extremely anthropomorphic—“stupid” animals react out of instinct, not curiosity. When turkeys die during storms, it’s normally because they’ve been spooked by lightning or thunder and have panicked themselves to death.

2. Eating turkey doesn’t make you drowsy. Thanks for the urban legend, Seinfeld. You know why you get drowsy after eating Thanksgiving dinner? You just ate three days worth of carbohydrates, and your intestines need all of your blood just to handle moving it through your system! Until your food gets to your small intestine to be processed, you’re gonna be drowsy.

3. Turkeys, though often associated with chickens, are much more closely related to wild pheasants and grouse. Wild turkeys are native to the Americas, just like prairie chickens and grouse. The bird that domestic chickens derive from, the Red Junglefowl (Gallus gallus), is native to the jungles of Southeast Asia.

4. Wild turkeys are actually decent flyers! Even the big, decked-out males in mating season can fly reasonably well. They don’t have much in the way of stamina (generally with a range of just over a mile at a time), but they can easily cross rivers, escape predators, and reach roosts high up in trees. Their flight can reach up to 55 mph when they’re escaping.

5. Yes, the English name of the bird and the name of the country are related. Though wild turkeys are native only to the Americas, their introduction to the British would have been from Spanish trade ships selling their wares in the Levant (an area including Turkey, Palestine, the Sinai, and other British holdings and allies in the Near East). The association with Turkey gave them their common name in English.

6. Domestic turkeys (of the large commercial variety) have been bred in such a way that their giant breasts make them literally too big to mate on their own, and as such have been artificially inseminated for decades.

7. The fleshy drape over the male turkey’s beak is called a snood, and the flesh on his neck is called a wattle. The bit of hair-like projections hanging down right below the wattle is his beard. Around the bottom of the wattle there are often fleshy bulbs that are harder and more prominent than the rest of the structure, when the turkey is not strutting or mating. Those are the major caruncles (from Latin caruncula, meaning “wart”). Females have a wattle and caruncles, but do not have a snood or beard.

This post originally appeared on Biomedical Ephemera.

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Animals
Owning a Dog May Add Years to Your Life, Study Shows
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We've said that having a furry friend can reduce depression, promote better sleep, and encourage more exercise. Now, research has indicated that caring for a canine might actually extend your lifespan.

Previous studies have shown that dog owners have an innate sense of comfort and increased well-being. A new paper published in Scientific Reports and conducted by Uppsala University in Sweden looked at the health records of 3.4 million of the country's residents. These records typically include personal data like marital status and whether the individual owns a pet. Researchers got additional insight from a national dog registry providing ownership information. According to the study, those with a dog for a housemate were less likely to die from cardiovascular disease or any other cause during the study's 12-year duration.

The study included adults 40 to 80 years old, with a mean age of 57. Researchers found that dogs were a positive predictor in health, particularly among singles. Those who had one were 33 percent less likely to die early than those who did not. Authors didn't conclude the exact reason behind the correlation: It could be active people are more likely to own dogs, that dogs promoted more activity, or that psychological factors like lowered incidences of depression might bolster overall well-being. Either way, having a pooch in your life could mean living a longer one.

[h/t Bloomberg]

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Big Questions
Why Don't We Eat Turkey Tails?
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Turkey sandwiches. Turkey soup. Roasted turkey. This year, Americans will consume roughly 245 million birds, with 46 million being prepared and presented on Thanksgiving. What we don’t eat will be repurposed into leftovers.

But there’s one part of the turkey that virtually no family will have on their table: the tail.

Despite our country’s obsession with fattening, dissecting, and searing turkeys, we almost inevitably pass up the fat-infused rear portion. According to Michael Carolan, professor of sociology and associate dean for research at the College for Liberal Arts at Colorado State University, that may have something to do with how Americans have traditionally perceived turkeys. Consumption was rare prior to World War II. When the birds were readily available, there was no demand for the tail because it had never been offered in the first place.

"Tails did and do not fit into what has become our culinary fascination with white meat," Carolan tells Mental Floss. "But also from a marketing [and] processor standpoint, if the consumer was just going to throw the tail away, or will not miss it if it was omitted, [suppliers] saw an opportunity to make additional money."

Indeed, the fact that Americans didn't have a taste for tail didn't prevent the poultry industry from moving on. Tails were being routed to Pacific Island consumers in the 1950s. Rich in protein and fat—a turkey tail is really a gland that produces oil used for grooming—suppliers were able to make use of the unwanted portion. And once consumers were exposed to it, they couldn't get enough.

“By 2007,” according to Carolan, “the average Samoan was consuming more than 44 pounds of turkey tails every year.” Perhaps not coincidentally, Samoans also have alarmingly high obesity rates of 75 percent. In an effort to stave off contributing factors, importing tails to the Islands was banned from 2007 until 2013, when it was argued that doing so violated World Trade Organization rules.

With tradition going hand-in-hand with commerce, poultry suppliers don’t really have a reason to try and change domestic consumer appetites for the tails. In preparing his research into the missing treat, Carolan says he had to search high and low before finally finding a source of tails at a Whole Foods that was about to discard them. "[You] can't expect the food to be accepted if people can't even find the piece!"

Unless the meat industry mounts a major campaign to shift American tastes, Thanksgiving will once again be filled with turkeys missing one of their juicier body parts.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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